Happy (& Safe) Trails to You: Hiking Safety in the Smokies

Whether your objective is to reconnect with nature, add a fun element to your workout routine, or simply take loads of epic selfies, hitting up a hiking trail is an excellent choice when you’re heading to Pigeon Forge for a getaway. Furthermore, hiking in the Smokies provides unique opportunities to find hidden waterfalls, rare species, and perfect Instagram shots (no filters necessary!) as you hike towards your goal in the Smokies — with a bonus sense of accomplishment at the end. While happiness is easily found on a hiking trail from all the spectacular sights and intake of mountain-fresh air, hiking safety, of course, is of the utmost importance.

Choose Your Level
Though taking the most dangerous, difficult, and daring route may be enticing, it is much wiser to go on a course more suited to your experience level (a sampling of trails in the Smokies is below). After all, you wouldn’t ski down the highest mountain your first go, would you? This will allow you to not only complete your hike but to also enjoy it.

Be aware of your physical limitations, take into consideration your entire group, and make sure to select a trail that meets your personal requirements (e.g. pet-friendly, historical places featured, wildflowers blooming, etc.). Most importantly, never be ashamed of heading back early if you or one of your group members cannot proceed further due to weariness or other reasons. In fact, speak up if you notice this about yourself or others as some people may feel reluctant or embarrassed to admit fatigue — though it is perfectly natural and more than okay to take a break when you need it! You can always head back to your Pigeon Forge cabin for a little R&R!

Great Local Hiking Trails
Laurel Falls Trail (easy)
• Gatlinburg Trail (easy)
• Little Brier Gap Trail (easy)
• Little River Trail (moderate)
• Alum Cave Trail (moderate)
• Rainbow Falls Trail (moderate)
• Cove Mountain Trail (strenuous)
• Rich Mountain Loop Trail (strenuous)
• Mount LeConte – via the Alum Cave Trail (strenuous)

Gather Intel
As they say, knowledge — of the area — is power. Once you’ve chosen your path, get to know it a bit better by researching thoroughly online, asking experienced hikers your questions, reading a relevant guidebook, or chatting with the locals. How many miles long is the trail? What kind of terrain will you be conquering? Which types of animals might you encounter? When is the best time to go? Also, be sure to note seasonal weather (to know how to dress) as well as any other helpful information you pick up along the way. The more you know, the better! Blind dates may seem somewhat scary, but blind hikes in the Smokies are much more terrifying.

Safety in Numbers
Being a lone wolf is not a bad idea in most circumstances. However, when hiking through a forest, it is hard to deny that going with a group is more beneficial. Safety in numbers isn’t just a common saying, you know. At the very least, you won’t have to carry all your gear alone. If you do go on a solo expedition (not recommended), be sure to let someone know where, when, and how long you plan to stay on your hike, just in case.

NEVER go on a hike — even if you are in a group — without informing someone (preferably not your mortal enemy) of your whereabouts. This way, if the worst should happen, you won’t be counting on sheer luck to save the day. It is also important to NEVER leave anyone behind. Hide-and-seek isn’t a good idea in the wild, as it may not be a human who finds your friend first! Everyone must stay together and keep to the trail.

The Essentials
With all the excitement of your adventure hiking in the Smokies, you are sure to burn a lot of energy, so bring plenty of refreshing water and fueling snackstrail mix should do. Overexertion is not a good idea on a hike, so respect your body and rest whenever you need to (keep in mind the return trip will be just as long as your trek up). Carry with you a compass and a map since technology can easily fail in nature. Additionally, a whistle and a first-aid kit could come in handy in an emergency — a piece of bright clothing, such as a scarf or a sweater, is also recommended. Though trekking at night should be avoided, take a flashlight (or a headlamp), matches, and warm clothes (jacket, hat, etc.) to be prepared. Feel free to bring a pocket knife, a rain jacket, a reliable watch, and a trusty guidebook for good measure.

If there is a lot of traffic and the hiking trail is short, you may not need to bring every single thing, but water is always a must. Plus, you can never be too careful! Also, everything you bring on the hike must be brought back. No item should be left behind — let’s keep the mountain life safe as well. Speaking of wildlife, don’t forget to give the animals you meet their space. If their behavior changes, you are TOO CLOSE! Just remember the 3 t’s of the trail: don’t tempt the animals with food, don’t touch the animals for any reason, and don’t tamper with their habitat (e.g. leaving items behind). Finally, make the most of your hike in the Smokies by taking pictures to preserve memories of your great experience. That goes for your time exploring downtown Pigeon Forge, too. You’ll want to remember this!